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THE Norman Conquest wrought great changes on both the learning and the literature of England. Saxon scholarship had been growing rustier every day since the great Alfred died; and those Saxon prelates who held sees at the time of the Conquest were far behind the age as men of letters. William therefore displaced many of them, to make room for polished scholars from the Continentsuch as Lanfranc and Anselm, who held the see of Canterbury in succession. The Conqueror, moreover, founded many fine abbeys and convents, within whose quiet cells learned men could think and write in safe and honoured leisure. Schools sprang up on every side. The great seminaries at Oxford and Cambridge—already distinguished as schools—were elevated to the rank of universities, destined to be formidable rivals of the older institutions at Paris and Bologna. Latin being the professional language of churchmen, by whom in those days nearly all learning was monopolized, we find a vast number of Latin works written during the centuries which immediately followed the Norman Conquest.
At this time what is called the Scholastic Philosophy, founded on Aristotle's method of argument, grew to a most extravagant degree of favour. Hence imaginative writing of all kinds suffered a great blight. It was only in the ballads of the people that fancy found utterance at all.
John of Salisbury, who, going to Paris in 1136, spent several years in attending the lectures of the best masters there, wrote a book called Metalogicus, exposing the absurd and childish
INTRODUCTION OF THE NORMAN ROMANCE. 29
wrangling which then bore the dignified name of Logic. Such questions as the following were seriously discussed in learned assemblies: “If a man buy a cloak, does he also buy the hood?” and, “If a hog be carried to market with a rope tied round its neck and held at the other end by a man, is the animal carried to market by the man or by the rope?” John of Salisbury's chief work was called Polycraticon, a pleasant and learned treatise upon the “Frivolities of Courtiers, and the Footsteps of Philosophers.” This accomplished monk died in 1182, being then Bishop of Chartres. The great feature in the literary history of this time was the introduction into England" of the Norman Romance. With Chivalry, from which it was inseparable, and from whose stirring life it took all its colours, the Romance rose and fell. From the corrupted Latin a group of dialects arose, called the Roman or Romance tongues; which, owing to slight intermixture with the barbarous languages, assumed somewhat different forms in Italy, France, and Spain. In France two dialects of the Romance language were spoken, distinguished in name by the peculiar words used for our “yes”—oc, (hoc), and oyl, oy, or out (probably illud). The language of oc was spoken in the south, and the language of oyl in the north of France. The Langue d'Oc, otherwise known as the Provençal which was sung by the famous Troubadours, blazed out a brief day of glory, was then trampled down with all its lovely garlands of song by Montfort and his crusaders, and now exists merely as the rude patois of the province that bears its name. The Langue d’Oyl, growing into the modern French, has influenced ourliteraturein more ways than one. The lays, sung by the trouvères of northern France in praise of knights and knighthood, were the delight of the Norman soldiers who fought at Hastings; and when these soldiers had settled as conquerors on the English soil, what was more natural than that they should still love the old Norman lays, and that a new generation of poets should learn in the Normanized island to sing in Norman too? It is no wonder that the list of Saxon writers, during the time when the nation lay stunned by the Conqueror's sword, should be
30 Principal, Latin Writers.
short. The Saxons were then slaves; and slaves never have any literature worth speaking of Some romances and chronicles. echoes of the lays sung by their Norman masters, were all that remained to show that the Saxon tongue was living. Yet living it was, with a wealth of life pent up in its hidden root, which was destined at no very distant day to clothe the shorn stem with the brightest honours of leafage and bloom.
Let us first glance at the Latin writers of the Norman times. As has been already said, Latin was the language of churchmen, the most honoured class in the nation; and therefore the amount of Latin writing, both in prose and verse, was very great. Sermons were often preached in Latin. Joseph of ExETER.—Josephus Iscanus, or Joseph of Exeter, was the leading Latin poet of this day. His chief works were two epic poems—one on the Trojan War, remarkable for its pure and harmonious Latin; the other, now almost altogether lost, called Antiocheis, a story of the third Crusade. Walter Mapes, or Map, Archdeacon of Oxford, also wrote Latin verses, but of quite a different stamp. A drinking-song in rhyming Latin is a wellknown part of his satirical work, called the Confession of Golias, which was directed chiefly against the Church and the clergy. The chief use of Latin at this time was in the compilation of the Chronicles or historical records. We owe much to the patient monks, whose pens traced weary page after page of these old books. Thereis, indeed, nothing like fine writing in any of these chronicles; and in many of them fiction mixes inextricably with true history like tares in the wheat-field. Yet much good sound truth has been extracted from the old chronicles; and from such legends as Arthur, Lear, and Cymbeline some of the finest blossoms of our literature have sprung. INGULPHUs.-A history of the Abbey of Croyland, or Crowland, in Lincolnshire, extending from 664 to 1091, is said to have been written by Ingulphus, who was abbot there for thirty-four years (1075–1109). But it is doubtful whether or not this was really the
THE LEADING CHRONICLERS. 31
work of Ingulphus; and certainly it must not be taken as a trustworthy record of passing events, for it is full of false and improbable statements. ORDERICUs WITALIS.—This monk, who was born in 1075, at the village of Atcham on the Severn, and spent all his life, after his eleventh year, abroad, was the writer of an ecclesiastical history, extending from the Creation to the year 1141. His account of the Norman Conquest is minute; and that part of his history narrating the events of the first four years of the Conqueror's reign (1066–1070), is much prized. WILLIAM of MALMESBURY.—The name of William of Malmesbury, born probably about the date of the Conquest, is remarkable among the many chroniclers of this period. His History of the English Kings, in five books, extends from the landing of the Saxons to 1120; and then three other books, called Historia Novella, are added, carrying the story down to 1142. As an historian, he excels in what is, comparatively speaking, careful writing, and a more exact balancing of facts than was common with the cowled chroniclers of the day. But his pages, too, abound in stories of miracles and prodigies, reflecting the “all-digestive” superstition of the time, from which the wisest heads were not free. GEOFFREY of MonMoUTH.—This learned Welsh monk, who died in 1154, is noted for having preserved the fine antique legends of the Celtic race in his History of the Britons, which he professed to have translated from an old Welsh chronicle. Here we find the story of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, upon which many noble works of our literature have been composed. The charm of such a book must necessarily be fatal to its value as a history; for the writer, letting his fancy play upon the adornment of these dim legends, mixes fact with fiction in a confusion that cannot be disentangled. Gerald Barry (Giraldus Cambrensis), Henry of Huntingdon, Roger of Hoveden, and Benedict, Abbot of Peterborough, may also be named among the crowd of chroniclers who have written on the early history of England. A favourite kind of light reading, often conned by the refectory
NATURE OF THE NORMAN ROMANCES.
fire in the long winter nights, was an olla podrida of interesting stories, gathered from every possible source and done into Latin by unknown hands. These books, called Gesta, were made up of monkish legends, chivalric romances, ghost-stories, parables, såtirical flings at the foibles of women, and such stories from the classics as the Skeleton of Pallas and the Leap of Curtius. The chief reason why they are worthy of our notice here is, that Shakspere, Scott, and other great wizards of the fancy, drawing some of these dim old stories from their dusty sleep, have touched them with the wand of genius and turned the lumps of dull lead into jewels of the finest gold.
NORMAN-FRENCH WRITERS. When the chase was over, and the Norman lords caroused in their English halls around the oak board, flinging scraps of the feast to their weary hounds, that couched on the rushstrewn floor, the lays of the French trouvères were sung by wandering minstrels, who were always warmly welcomed and often richly paid. Many poets of English birth soon took up this foreign strain, and wrote lays in Norman-French. The deeds of Alexander, Charlemagne, Havelok the Dane, Guy of Warwick, Cour de Lion, and other such heroes, were celebrated in these
In the earlier stories there is more probability; but by degrees, what critics call the "machinery" of the poem, that is, the introduction of supernatural beings as actors in the drama, becomes wild and fanciful, borrowing largely from the weird superstitions of the North and the East. As we read, knights and ladies, grim giants dwelling in enchanted castles, misshapen dwarfs, fairies kindly and malevolent, dragons and earthdrakes, magicians with their potent wands, pass before us in a highlycoloured, much-distorted panorama.
The romances relating to King Arthur possess a special interest for
us, since our Laureate and a brother bard have founded poems on these old tales. The strange and profane legend of the Saint Greal is mixed up throughout with the story of Arthur and his Knights. The Greal was said to be the dish from which our Saviour ate the